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Dear HR: Do You Really Want A Seat at the Table?

There has been a never-ending conversation in the Human Resources community about how to get a “seat at the table,” generally implying that the HR function should be in the C-suite, reporting directly to the CEO. The problem to be overcome is that HR is not viewed as a strategically relevant function. Finance? Sure, that’s obviously strategic. And the relatively newly created Technology or IT function? Yep, that’s important, so welcome to the C-suite. But HR? In some organizations yes, but many times no.

Many point to HR’s “split personality” as the problem. A lot of what HR does is administrative: payroll, benefits administration, compliance stuff, etc. It’s important work, to be sure (people do like to get paid), but it’s a lot of paper-pushing, which doesn’t particularly scream “strategic” in any way. Of course, that’s not all HR does. Talent management, compensation strategy, employee engagement and retention—it doesn’t take much to argue the strategic value of these functions. But because of the history and weight behind the administrative part of HR, the strategic side doesn’t get enough attention to warrant that seat at the table.

That argument may sound logical, but it’s a complete lie.

IT and Finance have administrative parts of their personality that are arguably more prominent than HR. The next time you feel frustrated working on some HR compliance detail, just be thankful you’re not running yet another Windows patch! And Finance? I think they literally invented paper pushing. Every department has a split personality including the ones who quite easily got a seat at the table. So what’s really holding HR back?


If you want the CEO’s attention, then start driving the growth of the enterprise. Finance and IT can make that claim. In many cases, HR can’t.

HR: But our people are our greatest asset!!!

CEO: No, they’re not. If they were, we’d sell some of them and use the proceeds to invest in growth.

Our people get the work done, and HR has embraced the job of making sure we have people in place, and then making sure we don’t get sued when we have to fire some of them. That’s not about growth. It’s about keeping up, and maybe not sliding backwards, but it’s not about growth.

So how do you make it about growth? That’s precisely what we are going to discuss in our next WorkXO Webinar with our partner, QuestionPro (join us August 10!). And I’m sure you’re not surprised to learn that our answer will revolve around organizational culture. It is very possible to turn your culture into your growth engine. But you have to do it right, and there is no one in the organization better trained and prepped to lead that effort than HR. It’s time to take culture much more seriously. You wouldn’t launch your product into a new market without doing the hard work of market research and product launch strategy, right? It’s hard, strategic work. So why do we let culture work become relegated to word-smithing the Core Values posters and planning the company picnic? Learn how to take culture much more seriously. Learn how to tie it to growth. The spots at the table will start opening up pretty quickly.

(photo credit)

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